How do you sum up a man’s life in one blog? The answer is that you don’t. I am certainly not going to attempt to sum up all that my grandpa, Robert William Marsau, did during his 88 years of life. I am certainly not going to try to tell you about all the people’s lives that he touched during his life. What I will try to do is sum up what Grandpa meant to me in my life and a few of the moments that I hold dear in my heart. Through these experiences Grandpa lives on through me. This is my way of paying tribute to a man who meant the world to me.
From the time I can first remember anything in this world, I can remember my grandpa. He was a big part of my life. My parents divorced when I was so young that I can’t remember. That meant that growing up I split time spent with my mom and my dad. My dad was a farmer and that meant long hours in the fields. While he certainly took me with him whenever he could, there were times that he just couldn’t. During those times, I spent over in Orange Township with Grandpa and Grandma Marsau.
I never knew exactly what was in store for me when I went to their house, but I knew there would always be something to do. With grandma we would cook and bake, do laundry with the old school washing machine and ringer. We spent lots of time reading stories and taking naps in the living room in the makeshift tent we would make with a giant quilt and folding chairs. I would play farm with the toy tractors on the floor in the kitchen. We would take walks up to the Orange School and play at the playground. Grandma and I would hold hands as we went. Believe it or not, there was a time when I was smaller than her. When I would go with grandpa we would work in his garden out back, put leaves and mulch around the beautiful flowers. There were trips to the church across the road to clean and stories, always lots of stories. Grandma and grandpa had been on many trips to many different places and they had a huge collection of slides from their journeys. I would take grandma to the basement and we would set up the slide projector and we would go through the slides for hours. I made grandma tell me about each and every one. When grandpa would get home, he would join us in the basement and the three of us would go through the slides together. Those two had been to so many distant places and I thought that was so cool. I remember when we would go on little trips in the car to see cool things. We would go to Atkinson to see aunt Susan and my cousins. We would go watch my cousin John play football and basketball at LaSalle high School in Cedar Rapids. I even remember the trip to Spillville and seeing all the beautiful clocks and the world’s smallest church.
We came from German heritage and it was very important to the two of them. Both would read me story books that were written in German. I never really learned the language, but I did get good at associating certain pictures with certain German words. When grandma and grandpa wanted to say something they did not want me to hear, they spoke to each other in German which was always a source of frustration for me because I always wanted to know what they were saying about me. On days I was really acting up there would be a lot of German spoke in that house.
Through it all, it was a house filled with love. They loved me unconditionally and always took the time to play with me and come up with constructive activities for me to do. I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time, but now as I look back on it, they were a great model of a loving family for me at a time I really needed that in my life. I will be eternally grateful to them for that.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I got the phone call I knew would eventually come, but hoped never would. It was dad and he told me that grandpa was dying. Grandpa’s health had been on the decline the past couple of years and I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Each time I went back to Waterloo, I tried to make a point of going to see grandpa at Rosewood, where he now lived, and each time I went to leave I would give him a hug and tell him how much I loved him. I always thought to myself in that moment that might be the last time I see him and I want him to know how much I love him. There was always a last time, but now this would be the last.
Stephanie and I made our way back to Waterloo and to Rosewood, where grandpa was. We gathered in his room. All the immediate family was back. Grandpa was struggling with his breathing and you could tell his time was near, but his mind was as sound as it ever was.
I spent some time sitting with him beside his bed and holding his hand. It was hard to understand what he was saying, but he was looking at places in the room where nothing seemed to be and he mentioned something about seeing angels. I knew that the time was nearing. I talked to him a bit and recalled some memories of times we had spent together and things we had done and thanked him for all those. I talked about grandma and he mentioned how much he missed her and wanted to be with her again. I told him that he would see her very soon. I told him that soon he would see his parents again and his sisters and all those he loved who went before him. In a moment of clarity, he asked me how he was going to find them all. At first I was a little stunned by the question, but then I told him that he didn’t have to worry because they would be there waiting for him when he got there.
Later in the afternoon, a pastor from the South Waterloo Church of the Brethren came and we had an anointing ceremony for grandpa. The pastor put oil on his forehead as the family circled his bed. We all prayed and then spent some time recalling stories about grandpa. Grandpa just laid there and listened as his life was being told as if from some history book.
We waited around as long as we could, but then the time came when we had to go back to Ames. All those times wondering if I would ever see grandpa again and now I knew. I knew that this would be it. This would be the last time I ever saw him. I approached his bed and gave him one last hug. I took his hand and what I meant to say very clearly was, “Thank you for being such a great grandpa and such a great role model for how a Godly man should live his life. I will carry what you have taught me with me through the rest of my life. Goodbye grandpa. I love you with all my heart.” I got the first couple of words out of my mouth and then I was so filled with sadness that I could only choke out little bits of…well I can’t remember exactly what. Even though I didn’t say exactly what I intended to, I knew that grandpa knew what I meant and he knew how much he meant to me and how much I loved him.
That was it. I turned around and left the room and left grandpa for the last time. It was a hard day, but one I am thankful I got. I got the chance to say goodbye and sometimes we don’t always get that and sometimes when we do the person’s mind is gone and they don’t understand. With grandpa, I got a chance to say goodbye and I knew that he understood what I was saying. That is a true blessing that I am very thankful to God for.
I want to take a moment to mention how thankful I am to my girlfriend Stephanie. She was my rock through the whole time. She gladly went with me, despite the fact there were family members that she had never met, and she helped me get through this. I will always be thankful to her for what she did and I love her with my whole heart.
My dad called me early the next morning and told me that grandpa had slept peacefully for most of the night and passed away just before 5 am. The end had finally come. I was saddened, but thankful that grandpa’s struggles with life were now finally over and he was in the place he longed to be, with grandma back at his side.
The following Saturday morning we had returned to Waterloo and found ourselves in the Orange Township cemetery on a beautiful, sunny, early fall morning. We were there to commit grandpa’s ashes into the ground at his burial site. I looked at the gravestone which said MARSAU in big letters on it. I saw Robert William, I saw D.W. Marsau, grandpa’s father and the one I was named after. I though about the name William Marsau and how I was the third one in this line to carry that name and how proud that made me. This was my heritage. This is where I came from.
It was a small group of immediate family and close neighbors gathered there at the cemetery. The thing we all had in common was that we had known grandpa for almost all our lives. We loved him, we cherished him, and we would all carry a part of him with us the rest of our lives. There was a period where people could tell of stories and remembrances of grandpa. Funny stories of pranks played on grandpa and by grandpa with his dear neighbor friends. Each of us had our own memories, but he had definitely touched all our lives. The time came and my dad, uncle Gene, and aunt Susan took grandpa’s ashes and placed them into the small hole in the ground. Lot’s of tears shed. It is a moment of real finality. A time to say our last goodbyes. It was a very touching moment to me and everyone there.
From there we made our way over to the church for the funeral service. So many family members and friends had gathered. Grandpa had picked out one bible passage from Psalms and one verse from Colossians that were very meaningful to him that he wanted read at his funeral.
I want to share them with you here. I chose to use the King James Version because I am almost certain that this is the version he would have learned them in.
King James Version (KJV)
100 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
3 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
King James Version (KJV)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
These are two very powerful pieces of Scripture and I see why grandpa loved them so much. I will keep them both close to my heart and meditate and pray of them for the rest of my days.
There was a time during the service for people to stand and share stories about grandpa that they recalled. Fond memories of the life he lived. I have been to funerals before where they did this, but there always seemed to be a reluctance on people’s part to share. Not here. People gladly got up and shared their memories.
My dad had asked me if I wanted to write something about my memories of grandpa that could be read at the funeral. Of course I wanted to do that. I am a writer. That is what I do. I wanted to share with you what I wrote. A portion of this was read at grandpa’s funeral.
My Tribute to my Grandpa (Robert Marsau)
Grandpa was a farmer. He was one of the great farmers. He embodied so many great farmers who worked so hard in Iowa, the Midwest, and this country. There are so few farmers left, but to remember Grandpa is to remember what the farmers of this great country used to be like. It is a great era that will never come again, but it is important that we remember what they did for our state and our country.
Grandpa had a great ability to make things grow. He was good at raising crops when he was farming. I can specifically remember the beautiful, immaculate roses that he grew, perfectly bedded with straw and no weeds. He understood the beauty of this and wanted to share it with the rest of the world. The strawberry patch he maintained at the farm. Strawberries are not easy to grow, but he always found a way to have a great crop of strawberries available for everyone to share in. The horseradish he grew. He would dig it up, grind up the roots and make little jars of his hot horseradish. He would share it with the neighbors and prepare it for church bazaars. There was always some to go around.
Grandpa always showed an amazing kindness to animals, all animals. I can remember specifically, the sows that we would keep in the hog houses on the farm and the neighbor’s farms as well. We would gather the shelled corn and pellets, put them in buckets, and load them in the back of the pickup truck. We would then drive around to the different barns where all the sows were housed. Mostly, I did this with dad, but I do remember times early on when Grandpa was doing it with us. The first thing we did was scrape down the cement floor to make a clean place for them. Then we would take the buckets of corn and pour them out in long continuous rows for the sows to eat. This was a great race because the sows were hungry and wanted to get at the corn as quickly as possible. I learned the technique of luring the sows to one corner of the barn, getting them close to me with the bucket of corn. Then I would make a mad dash down the length of the floor dumping the corn as I went so I could get the corn down before the sows would knock me over. (I actually was a little boy once and could get knocked over). This was not always a fun job and there was a real tendency to want to hurry through each place we stopped so we could get done. Grandpa never did this. He took the time to rub the backs of the sows while they were eating. They would grunt happily. He understood the importance of the animal human bond. Grandpa understood that the happier animals are, the better they do. He was their greatest friend. The animal’s welfare was always his top priority and the animals knew it. That’s why they would come up to him to be petted. Animals have a special way of knowing who the truly kind people are. Seeing at a young age how Grandpa would interact with the animals had a life long effect on me and had a great influence on my life concerning me wanting to become a veterinarian.
Grandpa was the custodian at South Waterloo Church of the Brethren for many years after he retired from farming. What a noble and selfless job. Grandpa made sure that this house of God was always kept spotless for the people to come worship the Lord. Grandpa worked so hard at this job. Sometimes he would let me come over and help him clean. I can tell you from experience that there was never a spot that did not get cleaned. This work ethic that Grandpa showed also had a profound impact on my life. Sometimes though, when I was too bored with cleaning, he would let me play the organ while he was finishing up at the church. The organ was so grand to me. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. My love of music took its first forms within this sanctuary.
What a great role model Grandpa was for what a great man should be. Grandpa was a man of God. His love for his family was only surpassed by his love for God. Grandpa put God first in his life and it showed in how he lived his life. Grandma and Grandpa Marsau demonstrated what a lifelong godly marriage should be. I respect Grandpa so much and I will always look up to him. Whenever I was around him, it made me want to be a better man.
The time I spent at Grandpa and Grandma Marsau’s house was very special to me. Their lives at home were quieter and softer than the homes we have become accustomed to today. There was a TV, but we seldom watched it. There was a lot of time spent reading. There was time spent going through picture slides in the basement. Time spent cooking meals, bread, and other deserts from scratch. There was time spent gardening and mowing out in the backyard. There was time for walks up to the Orange school. Grandpa loved to play classical music on the radio. The sounds of the great symphonies from a generation gone by filled the house. At the time, I don’t think I appreciated it much, as with most things in life, but today I can appreciate it. I can actually long for those days again. I can understand the importance of it. The simpleness and quietness had a purpose. They appreciated the simpler things in life. Sometimes you have to slow your life down and listen and appreciate all of God’s little miracles. Sometimes God speaks very softly to us, whispering into our ears and if we are not listening, we don’t hear Him. Grandpa knew how to hear God’s whisper. When Jesus came and whispered into Grandpa’s ear in the early morning hours on Tuesday, Grandpa was listening. Jesus took his son into His arms and carried him home. Back home to where Grandpa always belonged. Grandpa got to finally hear those words that he longed to hear his whole life, from the source that meant the most to Grandpa. That source was God and those words were “Well done, my faithful servant.”
Your Loving Grandson
William John Marsau
After the service was over, we all gathered in the gym of the church and had a wonderful meal of traditional Bethren-style sides, salads and desserts. There was time to talk to family and friends. It was a great time. Grandpa would have loved to have been there with us because he always loved family gatherings, but not this time. He was on to bigger and better things. One day we will join him, but not on this day and until that day comes, we will just carry the essence of who he was and what he stood for around in our memories. Grandpa, you will be missed, but you will never be forgotten. Thanks for making this world a better place while you were here!